Institute scientists test Channel 4's 'Health Freaks'

8 November 2013

UCL Eastman Dental Institute's department of Microbial Diseases provided the microbiological input for episode 2 of Health Freaks, a Channel 4 health series that discusses the effectiveness of home remedies.

Personal trainer Alan Levi appeared on the programme to put forward his remedy for gingivitis (inflamed or bleeding gums) – using coconut oil as a 'natural' alternative to mouthwash.  Alan reported that his technique of pulling coconut oil through his teeth had both returned his gums to health and reduced plaque on his teeth.  The Institute was called in to check the science behind the claims.

A nine day oil pulling trial involving 18 volunteers was conducted on the programme. The randomised controlled trial split the group in two – half washing their mouth with coconut oil for 10 minutes each day, the other half performing the same routine only with distilled water.  A team of researchers from Microbial Diseases analysed saliva samples for bacteria  and measured plaque for each participant before and after swirling either water or coconut oil.

The trial demonstrated that swirling coconut oil for nine days did not lessen dental plaque.

In the programme, the presenters report that there was a significant reduction in oral bacteria across the sample groups, alongside a reduction in plaque levels, and posit that these positive outcomes may have been due to the act of swirling itself.  However, the Institute's team cautions that the trial itself did not demonstrate this – as there was no group in the study that did not swirl, there was no data to demonstrate whether swirling had any effect.  The participants maintained their 'normal' oral hygiene routines in addition to swirling, and it is not uncommon for participants in oral hygiene studies to have better hygiene when they know they are being studied.

Whilst coconut oil may not be efficacious in combatting dental plaque, other recent trials conducted by Microbial Diseases have shown that certain foods (or their constituents) can combat oral diseases.  In papers published in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, researchers demonstrated that the juices of some mushrooms have anti-plaque and anti-inflammatory properties when used as a mouthwash in clinical trials.

Read more:

Watch Health Freaks Episode 2 on 4OD (available until 27 November 2013)

Find out more about Microbial Diseases at UCL Eastman Dental Institute